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Help! I'm organising a picnic for a group of us and I need to find a green space close to Central London but without huge crowds to spoil our day out

the doctor replies

Last time you tried to picnic in the local park the place was so chock full of sunbathers you couldn't even see the grass. To add to your woes a rogue frisbee knocked over a whole bottle of chilled Chablis before coming to rest in your homemade potato salad. This time you're determined to find proper countryside where you can spread out the picnic blanket and contemplate nature in peace.

Picnic by Tube

You don't even have to stray off the Tube map to get away from it all. The trick is to travel a bit further or pick less well-known beauty spots.

Bishop's Park in Fulham has great riverside views but the best spot is the grounds of Fulham Palace (by Bishop's Avenue). This large walled garden with ancient glasshouses and herb walks feels miles away from London and there's always a secluded spot to spread out a picnic blanket. For open countryside, go two zones further to Fryent Country Park in NW9 and you have more than 200 acres of organic hay meadows and woods to romp through. There are any number of picnic possibilities, but a prime spot for great views is Gotfords Hill.

If that's still not far enough, head to Epping Forest at the end of the Central Line. The largest public space in London, it attracts lots of ramblers and riders, so pick the Theydon Bois end for guaranteed seclusion.

* Bishop's Park is near Putney Bridge Tube, entrance in Fulham High Street. Fryent Country Park is near Kingsbury Tube, entrance in Fryent Way.

Epping Forest is close to Loughton and Theydon Bois Tube stations. Call the Epping Forest information centre on 020-8508 0028 or visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk for a forest map.

Seaside special

You can enjoy country and coast if you head to Leigh-On-Sea in Essex.

Quieter than its bucket-andspade neighbour Southend, it's just 45 minutes by train from Fenchurch Street with trains leaving about every 10 minutes.

The Old Town has preserved its fishing village atmosphere but if the daytrippers are out in force head west to Hadleigh Country Park, a 472-acre wilderness of pasture, saltmarsh and woodland complete with ruined castle and stunning views to the Thames and Kent.

* Standard returns from Fenchurch Street to Leigh-On-Sea are [pounds sterling]9.10, [pounds sterling]4.55 for children. The station is a good 10-minute walk from the town.

By road Leigh-On-Sea is 35 miles from London via the A13 or A127 (expect heavy traffic during summer weekends). Visit www.nationalrail.co.uk and www.leighonsea. …